By Thomas A. Parmalee

The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association’s Fall Leadership Conference ended a few weeks ago, but attendees are still riding a wave of excitement.

The Oct. 24-26 conference was held at the Lowes Ventana Canyon in Tuscon, Arizona, and was spearheaded by the ICCFA in conjunction with the Death Care Collective, a group of women dedicated to fostering connections, strengthening relationships, and empowering women in the death care profession.

We recently caught up with Erin Creger, chief sales officer at Envision Strategic Partners and a founding member of the Death Care Collective, to learn about her takeaways from the conference as well as how the group she helps lead got involved.

How did the Death Care Collective come to team up with the ICCFA on the Fall Leadership Summit?

We were contacted by Nadira Baddeliyanage and Kirsten Kase last fall about the potential collaboration. I think they were looking for ways to reach new people who may have never attended this conference in the past.

How would you rate Tucson, Arizona, as a meeting location? Was it everything you dreamed it would be – and what were some of the high points of the location and venue?

Tucson was beautiful. It was my first time, and the location of the resort was perfect. It sat on the edge of a nature preserve with several hiking trails (which we took full advantage of).

What was the turnout like?

We had close to 150 registrants, which was close to our goal. We are hoping to see it grow next year!

Who was the most interesting person you met at the event?  

Larry Long Jr. was a highlight. His energy is contagious, and he had some great takeaways around how to rank your priorities. Robbie Pape was also a highlight with her session on Executive Presence. I don’t think anyone looked away during her entire speech; she is so captivating!

Were there more women than usual at this conference because of the involvement of the Death Care Collective?

We were pleasantly surprised to see attendance was about even with women and men.

You served as a co-chair and co-emcee with your friend and colleague, Honnalora Hubbard. What was your biggest challenge in that role?

 As always, the biggest challenge is ensuring you’re cultivating an experience that is educational and meaningful for attendees. There will always be some sessions that resonate more with some than others, but we wanted to ensure there was something for everyone. We also wanted to represent voices from the other co-founders and members of the Death Care Collective as we created this experience. We were truly humbled by the number of people who commented on the quality of speakers and unique content. There were topics discussed regarding diversity, servant leadership and real honest conversations about what it means to be a professional that felt honest and refreshing. Hearing that feedback from attendees meant everything to us.

Erin Creger, Robbie Pape and Honnalora Hubbard.

What keeps you up at night as a professional in this space – and how did this conference help?

Great question! If I’m honest, my middle of the night brain is my biggest enemy. It’s when I hear all the things that could go wrong, and all the people I will be letting down if I fail. When this happens, I tell myself, “We’ll talk about it in the morning” and find the thoughts have generally dissipated by my first cup of coffee. We all have fears, insecurities and limitations – it’s just part of being human. But if we let these dictate our decisions and choices, we would remain confined to our comfort zones and end our life with a bucket full of regrets. My dreams are ambitious, and at the end of my life, I want to look back knowing I had a hand in guiding as many people to the top of the mountain with me as possible.

What are three things you plan on doing in the near future as a result of attending the conference?

I loved Larry Long Jr.’s takeaway on the “three-minute challenge.” The goal is to take three minutes each day to “surprise and delight” someone in your life. It could be a friend or colleague, past mentor who has made a difference, family member, or anyone. The key is to spread joy and make a difference every day. It’s simple and powerful. I also plan to stay in touch with all the incredible people I met at the conference. The smaller venue allowed for more time to really get to know one another, which is truly a gift. And finally, I plan to follow up on some of the generous offers of help and support from so many members of the Death Care Collective.

What other highlights from the conference would you like to shine a spotlight on?

The “Morning Mindfulness Hike” (pictured at top) was a hit! When you tell folks to be in the lobby at 6:45 a.m. after a night of cocktails and networking, you never know what you’ll get. Honestly, when Shannon Bischoff first suggested it, I thought we may get four to six people to join us. We were so pleasantly surprised when we had over 25 people waiting downstairs! There’s something in the connection that’s made when you roll out of bed, head straight downstairs (pre-make-up or shower for the day) and gather for some fresh air and sunshine, that brings people together. We had a general topic of conversation based on an article Shannon had read regarding “Who has your back” and all shared and discussed casually as we got to know one another along the trail. It was a beautiful way to start the day, and allowed for time outside before the day of in-classroom sessions began. I hope other conferences begin to incorporate more time outdoors like this together. It was meaningful, simple, and free!


Attendees enjoying networking at the conference.

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